Bicycling might be a surprising subject for a winter edition of an Edmonton transit column, but for many transit riders, myself included, this is the time when bikes are missed the most.

For many trips, bikes outperform buses. Only along the LRT or for long trips does ETS win out, which is why I spent the summer without a transit pass.

Another disappointing reason to discuss bicycling is the loss of Edmonton’s small bike sharing society, People’s Pedal, after a single season of theft reduced 100 bikes to five.

Bike sharing, done correctly, is an incredible addition to a transit system. Long walks become quick rides. Storage becomes someone else’s problem.

Bikes on trains and buses are great, but peak-hour LRT restrictions and a lack of buses with racks dampen my enthusiasm.

While welcome, small systems can’t supply the critical mass of stations and bicycles, nor make the investment in electronic stations and ticketing.

A new wave of large systems across Europe has worked out the kinks, with conspicuous bicycles designed with unique parts — durable, perfect for city riding, and highly theft- and vandalism-resistant.

Lest the argument be made that it would never work in Edmonton, Toulouse was a pioneer with a million people and Montreal is launching an April-to-November system in 2009.
Montreal’s first phase covers about 25 square kilometres with 300 stations — meaning a bike is generally less than 150 metres away.

Assuming Edmonton would be better served with fewer stations (100) and a slightly longer walk (200 metres), the system’s core could stretch from 107 Avenue to Whyte Avenue and 124 Street to 95 Street, hitting the university, downtown, and Old Strathcona.

A quarter of those stations could go along the full length of the river valley — increasing the system’s reach while providing an excellent recreational opportunity.

Cost is the best part. Fares are free for a half-hour ride to encourage the kind of short use that reinforces transit, and the annual subscription is usually less than a monthly transit pass.
Montreal is planning to break even overall. European systems have lower fares because advertisers fund them — this is more capitalism than socialism.

As for discussing this in the winter, who better to contribute the advocacy time than cyclists now stuck riding (and waiting for) the bus?

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